The series was hosted by former actor/nightclub singer Johnny Johnston in all but the 1961-1962 season, where Win Elliot hosted. Contestants were all members of the Professional Bowlers Association and wore their PBA bowling shirt uniforms.
The program always followed weekly network broadcasts of 10-round boxing matches on ABC, hosted by the legendary Don Dunphy. The fights were broadcast by WABC, Channel 7 in New York City, beginning at 10:00 P.M. Eastern time. On most nights, the fights would last until 10:45 P.M. To fill the available 15 minutes before the top of the hour, ABC chose to air Make That Spare. If the fights ran late, Make That Spare was preempted. The program was broadcast live from the Paramus Bowling Center in Paramus, New Jersey; the show's varying time slot was compensated through how much time the contestants were given to banter or to prepare for each shot (the game had to be moved along more quickly if a boxing match ran late). Miller High Life and Kool cigarettes were the show's sponsors.
Professional bowler Don Carter made history on October 28, 1961. On that evening, Don became the first to convert the 6-7-8-10 sweepstakes spare. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the grand prize of $19,000. Carter made the same split four episodes later, winning another $8,000. Monroe Moore also made the 6-7-8-10 spare and held the program's record by winning nine weeks in a row.
Make That Spare was ABC's first foray into televised bowling. The network would begin airing full PBA bowling matches in 1962 and eventually pick up the Professional Bowlers Tour, which aired regular contests on the network until Disney took over ABC in 1997.
Each bowler was given a series of pin configurations and one roll of the bowling ball to knock down all the pins and convert the (hypothetical) spare. As the bowlers progressed, the spares became more challenging and the point values increased. Each frame was configured as follows:
- The "dinner bucket," pins 2-4-5-8, worth 25 points.
- The "clothesline," pins 1-2-4-7, worth 25 points.
- The "steam fitter," a 4-5 split, worth 50 points.
- The "washout," pins 1-2-4-10, worth 50 points.
- The 5-7 split, worth 100 points.
The highest scorer won $1,000 and the right to convert a "sweepstakes spare" worth a minimum of $5,000; making all five spares in the main game earned an additional $1,000 bonus. The loser also received a check for a lesser, unspecified "loser's share." In early seasons, the sweepstakes spare was always the 6-7-8-10; this later was changed to a randomly chosen spare. If this spare was not converted on a given program, $1,000 was added each week until won. In 1964, making the sweepstakes spare won a Ford Mustang. The winner of each weekly episode also earned the right to return the following week to defend his championship against a new challenger.
The program was aired as a one-time special on March 12, 1988 with Chris Schenkel and Nelson Burton Jr. as the commentators, prior to that day's live PBA match on ABC's long-running Saturday afternoon series Pro Bowlers Tour. This special served as the pilot for ABC when they considered remaking Make That Spare as a series during the 1989 PBA season. But the series never materialized.
TVS Television Network produced a revival of the series, set at the Silver Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. The network ceased public operations in 2012. The number of episodes, the extent of its distribution and other details of the series are unknown.
The series was never copyrighted and extant episodes from the 1960s run (at least three) are thus in the public domain. As a live broadcast, it is unknown how many episodes of Make That Spare survive.